The trip The otherworldly terrain in southern Utah’s labyrinthine canyon country–slots, hoodoos, mesas, bizarre sandstone formations–is as confusing as it is captivating. Get off-track or miss one of the infrequent water sources, and you have real problems. This 55-mile, roughly eight-day stretch of the Hayduke Trail serves up both extremes. You’ll travel mostly off-trail, with steep, loose scrambles, deep sand slogs, and a paucity of distinctive terrain features. Long stretches are waterless–including the first 25 miles. In return, you get bragging rights for a spectacularly remote and rarely traveled journey.
Tech assist Use ExpertGPS (expertgps.com) to plot routes using topo and aerial photographs, then send data to your GPS. Plan best-case routes and alternates, since the complex terrain may present obstacles you can’t identify on screen. Example: See backpacker.com/hayduke for our custom file with multiple off-trail routes.
The route Start in Canyonlands’s Needles District, where multicolored sandstone towers stand like 200-foot candles above the desert. You’ll pass under Seldom Seen Bridge and trek by the cliff dwellings and rock art of Fable Valley. Mark water caches (drop one pretrip to avoid carrying three days’ supply at the start) and critical water sources (at miles 24.7, 34.1, and 42). Tip: Waypoint your vehicle at trip’s end as well.
The Way Start at Big Spring trailhead in the Needles District, reached via UT 211, off US 191 between Moab and Monticello. Shuttle drop: From US 191, take UT 95 west; 1.4 miles south of the bridge over the Colorado River, turn east onto Road 632. Go 8.6 miles and turn left onto Squaw Rock Road. Continue 2.4 miles to Sundance trailhead.
Guidebook The Hayduke Trail, by Joe Mitchell and Mike Coronella ($20, University of Utah Press)
Map USGS quads: The Loop, Spanish Bottom, Druid Arch, Cross Canyon, House Park Butte, Fable Valley, Bowdie Canyon East, Black Steer Canyon, and Indian Head Pass
Season Spring and fall; summer is extremely hot; winter is cold and icy.
Permit Required for backcountry camping in Canyonlands and Glen Canyon.